2015 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction
(Yale University Press)
National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Hodes: Almost everything surprised me, starting with such a diverse array of personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination. Of course I expected to find an outpouring of grief, but I didn’t expect to find such unmitigated fury among Lincoln’s mourners. Nor did I expect that so many mourners would blame the assassination squarely on the institution of slavery. Then I found that even the most devastated, both black and white, could easily interrupt their mourning rituals to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life. A great many of the bereaved wrote that the world had come to a complete standstill in the wake of the tragedy, even as their actions made clear that daily life continued on: for men, farming and business; for women, domestic labor; for soldiers, the rigors of camp life; and for everyone, romance and entertainment. I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that Confederates reacted to Lincoln’s assassination with glee, but I was taken aback by the virulence of Lincoln’s political enemies in the North -- civilians and Union soldiers who clapped and cheered when the news arrived. Nor was I surprised that African Americans cast the martyred Lincoln as their "best friend," though I was surprised that defeated Confederates who celebrated Lincoln’s death also, at the very same time, cast him as their best friend. Sure, these portrayals were partly political strategy (for blacks and whites alike), but they also speak volumes to Lincoln’s still-enigmatic statesmanship.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The news of Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865, just days after Confederate surrender, astounded the war-weary nation. Massive crowds turned out for services and ceremonies. Countless expressions of grief and dismay were printed in newspapers and preached in sermons. Public responses to the assassination have been well chronicled, but this book is the first to delve into the personal and intimate responses of everyday people—northerners and southerners, soldiers and civilians, black people and white, men and women, rich and poor. Through deep and thoughtful exploration of diaries, letters, and other personal writings penned during the spring and summer of 1865, Martha Hodes, one of our finest historians, captures the full range of reactions to the president's death - far more diverse than public expressions would suggest. Hodes brings to life a key moment of national uncertainty and confusion, when competing visions of America's future proved irreconcilable and hopes for racial justice in the aftermath of the Civil War slipped from the nation's grasp. She masterfully brings the tragedy of Lincoln's assassination alive in human terms—terms that continue to stagger and rivet us one hundred and fifty years after the event they so strikingly describe.
About the Author
Martha Hodes is Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of two previous prizewinning books, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century and White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the NineteenthCentury South. Hodes has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Whiting Foundation. Hodes has been interviewed by, or written for, media outlets including The New York Times, WHYY’s “Radio Times,” WOR’s “The Joey Reynolds Show,” and more. In 2011, she was elected to the Society of American Historians. She lives in New York City and Swarthmore, PA.
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